Saturday, April 18, 2009

Doubters Into Shouters

Our Redeemer’s Lutheran Church, Puposky, MN
Trinity Lutheran Church, Debs, MN
April 19, 2009
Second Sunday of Easter/John 20:19-31

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

One of the things I love about the Bible is that it has dirty laundry hanging out all over it.
The folks who put the Good Book together could have cleaned things up, smoothed over the rough spots, rounded off the jagged corners--but they didn’t.

The Bible tells the story of God and God’s people “warts and all”—no holds barred, no apologies offered. Nothing gets sanitized or swept under the rug--even episodes that don’t exactly put believers in the kindest light.

Take this familiar gospel lesson for the Second Sunday of Easter.

There are no two ways about it: This is a story about unbelievers....unbelievers who because they were Jesus’ disciples should by rights have known better.

This morning’s gospel lesson is about unbelievers.

First there are those ten men, huddled together behind locked doors (in a “safe house”) on that first Easter. They have spent years with Jesus. They have walked miles with Jesus. They have heard Jesus teach, seen Jesus work wonders. They have lived as close to Jesus as anyone. But still they’re clueless.

They thought Jesus was done for.
They assumed that their adventures with Jesus were over.
They had nowhere to go, no place to turn, no future to look forward to.
So, fearful that Jesus’ fate might come their way as well, these ten disciples pulled the shades, locked the doors, put out the cat, and hid.

They were (at this point) unbelievers. They couldn’t muster even half-an-ounce of faith that God might still have something in store for Jesus or for them.

This gospel lesson is a story about unbelievers like those 10 scared-rabbit disciples, huddled behind barricaded doors on the first Easter.

And then there is that disciple who was missing--good old Thomas.

Thomas missed all the hoopla when Jesus showed up three days after his burial. Thomas had pressing business elsewhere that day. Perhaps he was out “on assignment.” For whatever reason, Thomas didn’t get to see the risen Christ.

And so--simply because that’s the kind of guy he was--Thomas declared that he wasn’t going to believe without at least as much proof as the other ten disciples had already received.

You’ve got to love Thomas.

He was no dummy. Every church council needs at least once Thomas on it--and God seems to make that happen.

You have to love Thomas. He was the kind of fellow who never got snookered, who took absolutely nothing at face value, accepted no wooden nickels, bought no cut-rate swampland in Florida.

I sometimes imagine Thomas as the Eeyore of the disciples.

You remember Eeyore--the stuffed donkey in the Winnie the Pooh stories. Eeyore is a cold, hard realist. He never views the world through rose-tinted glasses. No matter how brightly the sun might be shining, Eeyore always knows that a storm cloud will show up on the horizon soon enough. “Always look on the dark side of life”—that’s Eeyore’s motto.

And it seems to be Thomas’s motto too--at least as we encounter him in the Gospel of John.

Although Thomas is mentioned in all four gospels, he only speaks in John’s Gospel. Thomas has four brief “lines” in John’s script—and he always speaks with the voice of cold, hard realism.
In John, chapter 11, when Jesus tells his disciples that his friend Lazarus has died and they must go to him, Thomas--always Mr. Sunshine!--glumly responds: “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”

In John 14, just after Jesus tells his disciples that they know the way to the place where he is going, Thomas the Realist begs to differ: “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?”

And then, here in John chapter 20, we see Thomas in all his skeptical glory. Demanding certified proof--visual and tactile evidence--that Jesus is really alive again.
You’ve got to love Thomas--unvarnished skeptic that he is.

And you’ve got to love the fact that his story didn’t get edited out of the Scriptures! His story didn’t wind up on the cutting-room floor.

There is good news in that, good news for unbelievers like you and like me....folks who can go head to head, toe to toe with Thomas in his dark doubting.

Because there is room for Thomas in the Bible, there is room enough in God’s story for you and for me as well.

For we certainly are all capable of Thomas’s skepticism--aren’t we? We have our own doubts about this whole Easter/resurrection/life beyond the grave business. We stoic northern European type-Looterans, know just how to take the wind out of the sails of whoever has the audacity to get too enthusiastic about anything.

Thomas fits us like a glove. Thomas is you and me. And the Bible--miracle of miracles!--does not shrink from telling his story.

But that’s not all.

The Bible doesn’t simply make us feel at home with all the other unbelievers who dot its pages.

The Bible doesn’t merely make us into more healthy, well-adjusted unbelievers. The Bible does more than make us comfortable with our doubts.

The Bible also tells us what God does with unbelievers, how God deals with doubters.

And what God does is simply this: God turns unbelievers into gospel-speakers.

God transforms doubters into shouters.

That, too, is the story--in fact it is the real story--of this gospel text.

First Jesus comes to those ten little lost lambs on that first Easter evening. Although the doors are locked, Jesus stands among them and gives them--not a stern lecture about the dangers of unbelief--but a word of gentle peace.

“Shalom!” That’s the first word Jesus has for this pack of unbelievers. “Peace to the nth degree,” Jesus says to them. And then, so that they will know he is truly Jesus and he now has death behind him, Jesus shows them the scars of his crucifixion.

Curious--isn’t it--that Jesus doesn’t offer proof that he is alive. Jesus doesn’t strap on a blood pressure cuff or a heart monitor or a brain wave detector. He doesn’t offer a DNA sample for testing.

Jesus proves he is alive by reminding his disciples that he was really dead. Then, and only then, do the disciples rejoice, in giddy recognition of their risen Lord.

And then, not wasting a second, Jesus gives these unbelievers work to do and empowers them to do it--all in one breath (literally--all in one breath!) “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”(v. 22-23)
What does Jesus do with these ten, knee-knocking unbelievers? He drafts them for his service, makes them his ambassadors, catches them up in his own work of piecing back together the whole creation--one shattered relationship, one jaded unbeliever, one repentant sinner at a time.

And Thomas? What does Jesus do for Thomas?

Two weeks after the first Easter Jesus does for Thomas exactly what Thomas needed him to do. Jesus graciously, lavishly gives Thomas the grounds he needs to become a believer. “Put your finger here, Thomas...Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do whatever you need to with me in order to have faith. Do not doubt but believe.” (v. 27)

What does Jesus do for Thomas? He transforms Thomas the doubter into Thomas the shouter.
Thomas doesn’t have very many lines in the Gospel of John, but Thomas does finally get the best line of all, Thomas’s last line in this Gospel: “My Lord and my God!”(v. 28) he exclaims.

And may we so declare those very same words! May Thomas’s good confession find its way to our lips, as well!

It is for us, you see, that the Bible tells us this story--warts and all.

It is for us that the Bible lets the dirty laundry hang out all over. Or as John the gospel writer puts it: “These are written that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.” (v. 31)

There’s the pay off! It is for you and me that the Bible allows the stories of unbelievers and doubters to be told....for only in so telling do we also come to behold what God does with unbelievers and doubters.

And what God does with them, in the pages of Scripture, is what God still does with the unbelievers and doubters in our midst, with you and with me.

God in Christ turns unbelievers--you and me!--into gospel-speakers.

God transforms doubters--you and me!--into shouters who love to deliver Thomas’s greatest line: “My Lord and My God!”

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

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